COVID-19 scenario modelling for the mitigation of capacity-dependent deaths in intensive care

Richard Wood, Christopher McWilliams, Matthew J Thomas, Christopher Bourdeaux, Christos Vasilakis

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Managing healthcare demand and capacity is especially difficult in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where limited intensive care resources can be overwhelmed by a large number of cases requiring admission in a short space of time. If patients are unable to access this specialist resource, then death is a likely outcome. In appreciating these ‘capacity-dependent’ deaths, this paper reports on the clinically-led development of a stochastic discrete event simulation model designed to capture the key dynamics of the intensive care admissions process for COVID-19 patients. With application to a large public hospital in England during an early stage of the pandemic, the purpose of this study was to estimate the extent to which such capacity-dependent deaths can be mitigated through demand-side initiatives involving non-pharmaceutical interventions and supply-side measures to increase surge capacity. Based on information available at the time, results suggest that total capacity-dependent deaths can be reduced by 75% through a combination of increasing capacity from 45 to 100 beds, reducing length of stay by 25%, and flattening the peak demand to 26 admissions per day. Accounting for the additional ‘capacity-independent’ deaths, which occur even when appropriate care is available within the intensive care setting, yields an aggregate reduction in total deaths of 30%. The modelling tool, which is freely available and open source, has since been used to support COVID-19 response planning at a number of healthcare systems within the UK National Health Service.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-324
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Care Management Science
Issue number3
Early online date8 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Capacity management
  • Coronavirus
  • Intensive care
  • Operations research
  • Simulation
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Professions(all)


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